In the summer 2013 edition of its quarterly magazine, the Southern Poverty Law Center details the racist writings of a white supremacist named Farnham O’Reilly.
The Alabama-based organization keeps an eye on such authors and recently discovered O’Reilly is actually the pen name of a certified public accountant from Payette, Idaho named Tim Folke.
Heidi Beirich heads the center’s Intelligence Project and wrote the article. She told Morning Edition Host Scott Graf investigators traced Folke’s writings back to 2007.
Beirich: He wrote a novel that was advertised on various racist websites called “Hyperborean Home”. And he put a big series of articles related to the white supremacist movement on another website that’s well known to us. So we’d known for some time Farnham O’Reilly as an activist in the white supremacist movement, as a person who supported it, gave money, wrote about it. So he was an important figure to us in that movement.
Host: For this genre, was there anything unusual about his writings?
Beirich: I would say a couple things. One, they were pretty educated and they talked to some fundamental issues in the white supremacist movement having to do with fundraising and really actually building a movement on the ground. In other words, moving white people to a community where they could live together. And it was relatively practical stuff compared to a lot of bold racist websites that you see on websites. So we at least knew Farnham O’Reilly was an educated person.
Host: What about his writings made you want to start finding out who was behind this pen name?
Beirich: We started getting more concerned about Farnham O’Reilly about two years ago when he began to assert things in writings about how he was providing things like mortgages to white families to move them to Idaho. So his activities had moved beyond discussing ideology, or politics or white supremacist theory to actually building a movement. And we’ve been reporting for some time on what are called pioneered, Little Europe communities. Those are communities of whites who are gathering in places like Montana and with Farnham in Idaho. So that’s what really sparked our interest to look further into it.
Host: How do you go about figuring out who a person like this really is?
Beirich: You get a lot of clues about people from what they post in the Internet. Where they say they live, you can tell things about their jobs. A lot of this stuff becomes inadvertent. And we have lots and lots of files going back many, many years about white supremacists. About 25,000 people are in our files, and we were able to start lining up addresses and locations. Of course we weren’t able to verify that Tim Folke was Farnham O’Reilly until we approached him and he admitted it.
Host: After you wrapped up your investigation, you reached out to his son. What did Kurt Folke say?
Beirich: I called Kurt because one of the last emails I’d gotten from Tim sounded kind of desperate and I was starting to get concerned that something terrible could happen. And Kurt was absolutely adamant that the family had known nothing about what Tim was up to. And that they had nothing to do with this, that they were horrified – that they just could not believe that ‘Dad’ had been writing all this extremely racist, anti-Semitic material. And that they had essentially disowned him. The mother was going to divorce his father and he was going to shut down the CPA business so he could distance himself from his father’s beliefs.
Host: Why does it matter who’s writing white supremacist essays and books?
Beirich: Because at the end of the day, this country has an ugly history with white supremacy. And these people, and I’m not saying Tim Folke particularly, but people in this movement have committed incredible acts of violence, hate crimes, and so on. It’s a threat - domestic terrorism threat , this movement. So it’s really important to know who these people are, where they are. And given the fact that Tim Folke was providing funds according to his writings, that’s of great concern. We don’t want white supremacy to be successful. It played a powerful role in American history and brought nothing but tears. So that’s why this is important.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio